Photo via the Washington Post
Shin Dong-hyuk, 26, is the only known person ever to escape from a North Korean prison camp. The Washington Post recently ran a feature article about Shin, who told the paper of his nightmarish experiences in Camp No. 14. The passages recounting the everyday savagery at the camp are truly horrifying. At 14, Shin was bound and tortured with fire by North Korean guards. Later that year, he was forced to watch the execution of his mother and brother in the center of the camp. So harrowing were the conditions at the camp that he considers the time when he found three kernels of corn in a pile of cow dung his “lucky day”.
At 23, Shin finally escaped.
He was working in the camp’s garment factory with an older prisoner who had seen the outside world and wanted to see it again. When they were collecting wood in a mountainous corner of the camp on Jan. 2, 2005, the two ran to an electrified barbed-wire fence. His friend got hung up and died in the fence; Shin stepped on his body and managed to get through.
“I could afford little thought for my poor friend and I was just overwhelmed by joy,” he writes of his first moments beyond the fence.
Though he is now free and living in a small apartment in Seoul, his new life in South Korea has been anything but easy. There are day to day struggles with depression, loneliness, and the memories, like the scars on his back, that can never be erased.
Making money. Saving money. Dating. Loving another human being. These are all strange concepts that Shin has struggled — and largely failed — to understand.
“I never heard the word ‘love’ in the camp,” he said. “I want to have a girlfriend, but I don’t know how to get one. Two months ago, I found myself without any money. It suddenly occurred to me that I had to go out and support myself.”
Though difficult to read at times, this is a very enlightening article which not only highlights the many struggles Shin has faced throughout his life, but also raises awareness about the horrid conditions in North Korea, a reality that many people throughout the world, South Koreans included, have overlooked for far too long. Definitely worth a read. Check it out here.